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11.26.2019 Sharon Spano, Ph.D.

How to De-Stress Your Family Turkey Day!

Are you really looking forward to the holiday or is Thanksgiving one of those days that you dread because you know that certain family members are going to push your buttons?

Let’s face it. We love getting together with family on this wonderful day of gratitude, but sometimes there’s a gut feeling of dread that clouds the joy we’re hoping for.

Often that gut feeling is strongly linked to one or two relatives that drive us mad. You know the ones. It’s those few that you’re already imagining yourself either ignoring or telling off—if you can just restrain yourself until after the pumpkin pie.

Family dynamics are complicated. More often than not, we hold grudges about events and circumstances we can’t even remember. But, what if you could do something different this year? What if you could be the one to hold space for it all—-the relatives you enjoy, and, yes, even the ones, well, not so much.

In my DNA workshops, we talk about things like order, place, and balance of exchange in the family systems. The work allows space for subtle shifts in how people think and respond to their family. It’s marvelous work, and I love seeing how families are coming together in life-giving ways that support a better world for us all.

Here’s a few things to consider as you move into Thanksgiving and the holiday season beyond.

Take a Look at How Your Family Rolls —Without Judgment

I know. This is sometimes easier said than done. Try to remember that family systems are dynamic and very complex. I invite you to pay close attention to your family in a generous way. Think about how you can celebrate the people in the room.

In my work, we pay attention to who’s being too big or too small in the family. This language refers to a dynamic you’ll recognize: The college student who comes home for the holiday and thinks she knows more than everyone else in the room. Next thing you know, there’s a political debate flying across the table, (or even mashed potatoes!) and everyone’s upset.

Or, maybe it’s your husband who unwittingly denigrates your dad’s profession. And, my favorite, the aunt-from-hell who adamantly thinks it’s her place to admonish your toddler for eating with his hands. Let’s not forget about the hard-of-hearing great grandmother we mostly ignore.

The scenarios are endless, but, the truth is, it’s not always about them, is it?

There’s a good chance that we’re the dreaded relative for someone else at the table.

So pay close attention. When are you the one being too big or too small? If there is one specific family member that you struggle with, ask yourself how you might show up differently for that person? How can you be the change maker? What can you do to honor his or her rightful place in the family?

Family systems have a rank and order to them. How can you be the one to acknowledge the matriarch in the family even if she’s snoring at the dining room table?

Most importantly, make it a point to notice who’s not there. Who’s missing or excluded from the family table— someone no longer present as a result of divorce, death, distance, or addiction?

Whatever the reason, no matter how painful, those people are also part of your family system. Remember them. Give thanks because they are a part of who you are as a family. It doesn’t have to be a big gesture. Try a silent or corporate prayer:

We give thanks for all who are at this table and we honor those not here—both past and present.

When we honor who or what came before, we put to rest many of the hurts, trials, and tribulations that have been a part of our family. In doing so, we make space for something new to emerge.

If you can express gratitude without judgment for every part of your family, you will have less indigestion, less stress, and perhaps even more joy. After all, it’s all about perspective, isn’t it?

Here’s to a blessed Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Published by Sharon Spano, Ph.D. November 26, 2019